By Johannes Reimer, Director of Public Engagement
Kathryn Jean Lopez’s article in the Catholic News magazine “Our Sunday Visitor” on reconciliation in times of Corona has inspired me deeply. “Maybe it is time for reconciliation” states Lopez to her Catholic readers. Locked in our apartment, each of us has plenty of time to think about God and the world. Life is busy and it has become so easy to forget our creator. Perhaps we should consider spending some time with Him and his word, confess our sin and get ready for the next phase of life after corona. All specialists predict that the time after the pandemic might be much more difficult than what we are experiencing now. It is obviously smart to rid ourselves from all the sinful ballast of the past. Reconciled people are free to start a new full power.
Reconciliation with God leads automatically to restoration of our own identity. The apostle Paul writes, that whoever is in Christ, is a new creation: old things have lost their influence, new things have started to shape our reality (2Cor. 5:17). Reconciliation with God results in reconciliation with oneself. We have plenty of time to think and pray about our own identity. Many Western people live with a growing inferiority complex. They desperately need reconciliation with their own past, their own ways of enculturation and their own position in society. Only people with a healthy self-esteem will be able to stay “above water” in times of crisis. Spend time with yourself, find your own face in the presence of the Lord.
With all this excess time on your hands now, you might also think of people you are still in conflict with. It. Broken relationships absorb your energy, occupy your calendar and are the greatest hindrances to a meaningful life. You may have separated long ago, but memories don’t go away that quickly. Healing of memories is urgently needed if you want to avoid becoming bitter. Now in times of COVID 19 you have the time to take the phone and call your former friend or partner and seek a heart-to-heart talk with the aim of reconciliation. Reconciled people are free to build new relationships and restore the old.
You may even look out of your window and take time to commit yourselves anew to caring for God’s good creation. For those with gardens, there is time now to grow flowers and trees in the garden. You could even build a house for the birds. They have been busy all morning singing to you. Have you ever spent time seeing to their welfare or even just admiring them for a moment. God gave you a cultural mandate. You are supposed to care for the nature around you (Gen. 1:26-28). Do you? If not, is there a pressing need to reconcile with nature?
Maybe Corona provides time for us to reconcile!
The New Testament word for reconciliation “catalasso” describes a process in which you enroll into a conversation by which you jointly determine: (a) the state you are in and what caused the situation; (b) name abuse, injustice, the victims and perpetrators; (c) confess sin, ask for forgiveness and forgive in the name of Jesus; (d) build a new relationship for a better future. (John W. De Gruchy: Reconciliation: Restoring Justice (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 51.)
First, reconciliation looks for truth, because only where we know what really happened, we might become free. Jesus says: “You will recognize the truth and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). The problem here lies with our memory. We remember our interpretation of the truth. And, our interpretation is colored by our culture, experience and often by our prejudices. We may think we know why God seems so far removed from us, and why we ourselves so often experience bouts of inferiority and our neighbours create constant conflicts. In reality we work with our own limited perspectives on all of this and some of our so-called experience may have even turned into a lie. Hence, recovery of the truth will probably need the services of a counselor, a neutral mediator who may be a pastor in your local church, a trained Christian psychologist, or just a good Christian friend. Going back and forth on your issues, exercising catalasso, you may soon discover truth, broaden your perspective and understand what really happened between you and God, you and your family and your neighbours.
Secondly, knowing the true story allows you to name the forces of abuse, destruction and conflict. Do not try to cover up but instead open your heart to the truth. This will allow true confession and genuine forgiveness to take place. Sin, both against God and humans, has names. Speak them out and prepare to confess them to God, yourself, your neighbours and even creation.
Third, confess your sin and be prepared to forgive those who have sinned against you be this yourself, or other humans. And you will receive forgiveness out of God´s grace. At the same time forgive, if others have abused you, as you been forgiven by God.
And lastly work for justice. Go and pay your share, accept punishment, if this is what your misbehavior has produced. Forgiveness does not remove the question of justice from the table. In fact, forgiveness is a transformational process which enables the forgiven to carry the load of punishment, to restore justice and build just relationships.(David W. Augsburger: Helping People Forgive. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox 1996), 9.)
For all of this we need time. Reconciliation does not happen overnight. And here is the good news – the awkward situation with the virus, opens up enough time for us.
But the difficult time is not only an invitation to personal reconciliation. It opens doors for community reconciliation. Corona does not pick and choose its victims. All humans in the whole world are in danger. Only when we humans unite, will we win the war against the virus. And this forces even enemies to join hands for the time being. Across all religious affiliations, people of good will have to started to support one another, share their masks, food and water.
And again, Christians should be on the frontlines of such community support actions. Going to the nasty neighbour in times of need and crisis will soften their heart, and open potential doors for settling conflicts and establishing a peaceful community. In a city in Central Asia, for instance, Christians were distributing masks to the Muslims of the community. There has always been a rather difficult relationship between the two faith communities. But now, observing Christians serving the Muslims, their leaders came and apologized for all the problems they created for the Christians.
The time of crisis is inevitably also a time of opportunity for reconciliation, mediation and a new start. The American journalist Kathryn Lopez is right, maybe the corona pandemic calls us to a deeper level of reconciliation. Let´s set aside the needed time and find new ways to reconcile with God, ourselves, our neighbors and even creation. This is a wonderful opportunity for us Christians to take the lead in ushering in a renewed and healing world.